Legislature wraps up session with budget bills
Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday signed the four major budget bills implementing the deal to resolve the battle over school funding, and end the 2017 Legislature.
Even though that cleared the way to shut down, it still took hours for lawmakers to process more than 30 other bills that all contained General Fund appropriations, not included in the governor’s recommended budget.
They finally started the process of shutting down as the midnight constitutional deadline to adjourn sine die approached, and did so only as the clock struck 12 on the 120th day. The Senate formally adjourned at 12:20 a.m., the Assembly just a few minutes before that.
After conceding that educational savings accounts would not be funded in the budget, the governor and Republican lawmakers pushed to instead expand the Opportunity Scholarships, a program that, like ESAs, provides funds to help students attend private schools. Unlike ESAs, the Opportunity Scholarships are funded with corporate donations that are then offset by tax credits against what those businesses pay in the Modified Business Tax.
Republicans used their ability to block the Capital Improvement Projects bill as a bargaining chip. That bill required a two-thirds majority to pass. CIP funds not only future construction and maintenance but the cost of servicing more than $250 million in current debt.
They also were able to block passage of Senate Bill 487, the 10 percent retail marijuana tax intended to generate $60 million to fund K-12 Education, for the same reason.
While not enamored with that program either, Democrats compromised, agreeing to a one time $20 million increase in the tax credits available to Opportunity Scholarships — on top of the $6 million a year already available. In part, they reasoned that Opportunity Scholarships go to families making less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level and not to the wealthy they said would get most of the ESA money.
With that deal in hand, Republicans voted to approve both the CIP bill and the marijuana tax.
“I’m really pleased with the result,” said Sandoval.
Sandoval included $60 million in his budget to fund the vouchers but, in the end, he said, “I was convinced the Democrats were not going to change their minds.”
The opportunity Scholarships, Sandoval said, will provide money for hundreds if not thousands of students to attend private schools.
Flanked by Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, and Democrats Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, both Las Vegas, Sandoval signed the K-12 Education bill, Authorizations and Appropriations Acts and the state employee Pay Bill.
Absent from the ceremony was Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who voted against all four of those measures.
“It’s certainly not what we wanted when we started the session but it’s close,” said Anderson.
He said the Opportunity Scholarship funding is an excellent program, but that the ESAs aren’t going away.
“We’ll be back for that another day.”
For their part, Frierson and Ford both said the final result of the intense negotiations was a good deal.
One of the final bills approved Monday just a couple of minutes before the midnight deadline was SB550. That bill was drafted to put some $17 million into helping the Clark County School District buy a new human rights information management system. It was amended to add $5 million to bridge a deficit in the Washoe County School District caused by the district’s failure to account for changes in how kindergarten students are funded through the per pupil contribution from the state.
Sandoval also rolled out a major donation to help build the UNLV medical school building. He held up a $25 million check from an anonymous donor that lawmakers have agreed to match, providing a total of $50 million to get that building project under way.